Some places are so haunted you can barely scratch your nose without encountering some discontented wraith or other, and Corfe Castle definitely fits this bill. Perched atop a green Dorset hill, the castle’s eerie ruins still keep silent vigil over the surrounding village (which is also called Corfe Castle, because apparently 10th-Century builders didn’t factor ease of googlability into their decision-making process).
The shattered remnants of Corfe Castle betray the violence and tragedy that defined its thousand-year history. From its turbulent Saxon origins to the carnage and brutality of the English Civil War, the crumbling fortress drips heavy with the blood of all who perished inside its walls.
The earliest infamous incident at occurred in 978, involving the teenage Saxon King Edward the Martyr. With a name like that, you can probably guess where this is going.
The details about Edward’s life are murky, but it’s known he took the throne following the death of his father, King Edgar the Peaceful. The succession was not clean, with Edward’s half-brother Æthelred (who was about nine at this point) put forth as a contender to his succession. The halls of power were already in turmoil following a series of reforms enacted by Edgar, in which power was stripped from private nobles and given to the monasteries instead. This coupled with the conflicting claims to the throne led to what can succinctly be described as a “great big pile of messy cack”.
In the end, Edward and his allies won out, and he was crowned king in 975. Æthelred was made Edward’s heir to appease his supporters, chiefly his mother, Ælfthryth (Edgar’s third wife and Edward’s stepmother – come on, keep up!). Ælfthryth, however, remained decidedly unappeased. Not content to wait for Edward to die of natural causes, which probably wouldn’t have taken very long in Saxon times anyway, it’s believed that Ælfthryth and her allies eventually hatched a plot to assassinate the young King.
And so, as the sixteen-year-old Edward arrived at Corfe Castle one fateful day in 978, he was suddenly set upon by assailants. They pulled him from his horse and stabbed him to death. Some accounts even mention Edward’s foot getting caught in his styrup, with panicked steed dragging the king’s body to a thoroughly undignified end. He was quickly disposed of in an unmarked grave, and Æthelred was immediately crowned. Although Ælfthryth was widely believed to have been responsible for Edward’s murder, nobody was ever brought to justice for the crime.
Edward the Martyr’s death set the dark legacy of Corfe Castle in motion, and the king’s tormented spirit can still be glimpsed sometimes, gazing forlornly from the remnants of the battlements and lamenting his fatal betrayal.
Of course, Edward’s spirit is far from alone in Corfe’s cold confines. Check back soon for the rest of the castle’s gruesome history, and we’ll see what other spectres we might encounter here, shall we?